Heard in the Echo Chamber - Volume V
You've heard of "They Might Be Giants?" We're going to call this edition "They Might Be Governors."
Sure, we're still eight months away from the 2006 elections, but with Gov. Mark Sanford cruising in his primary and a really bad version of amateur hour playing between the trio of Dems seeking the gubernatorial nod (see Lee Bandy's Sunday column in The State), is there really much else to do but look to the future?
Truth is, the smart Democrats (yes there are a few of them out there) wanted no part of 2006. With Sanford's war chest, incumbency, and telegenic appearance presenting a near-insurmountable triple threat, why throw yourself into the mouth of the lion when a much more winnable race is just a few years down the road?
There are probably anywhere between 20-30 people who could be your next governor, and guess what - Tommy Moore, Frank Willis, Ken Holland and Oscar Lovelace aren't on that list.
Who is? Well, since you asked, take a look:
1. Vince Sheheen (pictured above), Camden - Vince Sheheen is the Mark Sanford of the Democratic Party - telegenic, articulate, moderate and a regular nightmare for GOP consultants. Soft-spoken but blisteringly intelligent and as politically-saavy as they come, Sheheen has staked himself out as a co-architect of long-overdue, bipartisan structural tax reform (Quinn-Sheheen) while simultaneously supporting increased government spending and remaining loyal to the 'Mo Money educrats. Brilliant strategy, which is what you'd expect from the nephew of a former Speaker of the House. Push him a little more to the center on the spending issue and this guy becomes a real problem for Republicans with their independent, pocketbook voters. Simply put, Sheheen is hands down the best candidate the Democratic Party could offer for governor in 2010.
2. Darla Moore, Lake City - It's only a matter of time for girl power to hit the Governor's Office, so why not start with the girl with the most power? The sad thing is that if Darla Moore could just temper her left-leaning tax-and-spend philosophy a bit and come off as a tad more compassionate, she'd probably be governor right now. Everybody knows you mean business, Darla - hell, the business school is named after you, right? But Moore is smart, sexy and can stroke her own checks - three potent attributes in statewide races that are won or lost on television. She would also bring a deep well of institutional support and power-backers to the race that most Dems could dream of. If Darla could learn to play the "sweet card" in a red state that hates Hillaries - even if it's just on television and in the newspapers - she could easily be South Carolina's first female governor in 2010.
3. Joe Erwin, Greenville - There's a great conspiracy theory that S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Joe Erwin is lining up lambs for the slaughter in 2006 so that he can take up the mantle himself and challenge for the state's top office in 2010. Of course, the down side to that theory is that the Dems getting their rear ends handed to them in 2006 under Erwin's "leadership" doesn't exactly boost his stock. Seriously, Dems are fielding candidates in only four out of nine statewide races? Yup, the word you're looking for there is 'pathetic.' Erwin has a brilliant PR-mind, which is why the Democrats inability to come up with a unified message - particularly as Sanford and the GOP Legislature are busy bloodying each other up - is truly baffling. Maybe Erwin is waiting until 2010 to roll out the Democratic "message" too, but he'll need at least a respectable showing in 2006 to keep his credibility sufficient for most people to care.
4. Joel Lourie, Columbia - Is every girl really crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed man? If so, Joel Lourie is in luck. The downtown Columbia clothing store owner is as neat and polished as any politico on either side of the aisle, literally as smooth as one of his hand-tailored suits. He obliterated a well-funded, Sanford-backed Republican opponent to win an open Senate Seat in 2004, and his trajectory seems upwardly-inclined from there. Lourie is one of the lead spokesmen for the education establishment, too, which means you get to read his name in the papers anytime the school choice or education funding debates are brought up, which if you haven't noticed, is a lot. Ambitious, bright, able to self-fund his race and another protege of a well-known Columbia political family, don't count on Lourie staying long in the State Senate.
5. Ashley Cooper, Charleston - The former Fritz Hollings legislative director has the name, the Charleston connections, the good looks and the upper echelon political experience that consultants dream of. The question is, does Ashley Cooper want it? Perfectly happy making bank for the law firm of Ogletree Deakins, Cooper is just the kind of candidate the Democrats need, but the question is does Cooper need the Democrats? With little to no statewide name ID and limited familiarity with state-level politics, Cooper may be content to stay in the private sector awhile longer before embarking on what many feel will be a very successful political career.
6. James Smith, Columbia - Combine an impressive record of military service, a stint as House Minority Leader and an amazing skill level with the press and you have the makings of a superb statewide candidate. Plus, James Smith was politically-saavy enough to take a pass on the race in 2006. Smith knows the mother's milk of politics - how to get his name out and sound good doing it. He's personable, witty and well-respected for his intelligence and legislative know-how, and has become Joel Lourie's tag-team partner in the anti-voucher, more-money-for-education movement. Smith would likely face heated scrutiny (meaning attack ads) in a statewide race, however, because he sends his kids to private schools. Perhaps being the architect of a bipartisan, school choice compromise during Sanford's second term (provided he's not in Baghdad - Smith, that is) could be just what the doctor ordered in warding off such criticism?
7. Robert Barber, Charleston - A former Charleston County School Board member and State Representative, Robert Barber is running the best Democratic campaign out there right now. He's proven adept at raising money, communicating his message and if he pulls an upset in the Lt. Governor's race (which is more likely than you may think), he's immediately catapulted into the Democratic driver's seat for 2010. Barber is a small businessman and has both legislative and lobbying experience - working predominantly with not-for-profits and conservation groups. His last political defeat, incidentally, was to Mark Sanford in the 1994 First Congressional District race. Look for Barber to continue impressing in the 2006 Light Gov. race, paving the way for a possible gubernatorial run in 2010.
8. Tameika Isaac-Devine, Columbia - She may only be a City Councilwoman now, but Tameika Isaac-Devine is second only to Former Minority Leader Gilda Cobb-Hunter as the pre-eminent female African-American in South Carolina politics right now. Expected to cruise to re-election in 2006, Devine's star is already well-established at the local level and Democrats salivate at the thought of her becoming a statewide candidate in the years to come. Devine will need to establish her moderate credentials on City Council, meaning her votes on the City of Columbia's surplus will be watched closely.
9. Gerald Malloy, Hartsville - A black man in a white man's district, Gerald Malloy could pack a formidable statewide punch if given the opportunity. Honest, unconventional and unapologetic, Malloy is a Democratic maverick who oozes potential, and is by far and away one of the most principled legislators in Columbia. Even GOP consultants have expressed interest in working with Malloy because of his willingness to listen to all sides of the debate before making a decision. Thoughtful, handsome and as hard-working as they come, Malloy is leading the pack of a new generation of African-American politicians in the Palmetto State.
10. Inez Tenenbaum, Columbia - Say what? Yes, we said Inez Tenenbaum. Fresh off a defeat for U.S. Senate in 2004 and less-than-stellar poll numbers that precluded her from running for governor in 2006 - or re-election as Superintendent, for that matter - Inez is down but not out. Let's not forget that with the exceptions of Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings, more people have voted for this lady at one point or another than any other South Carolina politician. And then there's wealthy, well-connected husband Sam, who will almost certainly push her to run for something big in the future. Inez's record as Superintendent is pitiful, but if things turn around in 2007-09, she can run in 2010 claiming to have "laid the groundwork."
1. Gresham Barrett, Westminster - Who is Gresham Barrett and what does he stand for? Well, he's working on a Sanford-esque strategy of building a fiscally conservative voting record in the U.S. Congress in the hopes of parlaying it into something bigger. Guess what? So far it's working. After all, people in Greenville had never heard of Mark Sanford in 2001, and similarly people in Charleston have probably never heard of Gresham Barrett today. A run for governor could change that in a hurry, though, and Barrett is making it perfectly clear to the people in the loop that it's a job he covets. Plus, Barrett is a lot more socially-conservative than Sanford was heading into the 2002 race, circumventing possible attacks from the right wing of the GOP.
2. David Wilkins, Greenville - Freezing his buttocks off as U.S. Ambassador to Canada has already gotten old for David Wilkins. Accustomed to being the big fish in South Carolina's pond, the former Speaker of the House is tired of getting razzed by the Canadian press has started sending feelers out for 2010. If he gets in the governor's race, it gets interesting quick. Count on Wilkins to cash in all his remaining chips with President Bush, not to mention the hundreds of legislative buddies he's made good on promises to over the years. Wilkins is thin-skinned and not particularly telegenic, but his gravitas and limitless reservoir of connections and owed favors make him formidable at worst, a frontrunner at best.
3. Andre Bauer, Columbia - Say what you want about Andre Bauer (and people say a lot) but there probably isn't a harder working politician in South Carolina. This guy eats, breathes and sleeps politics, and it shows in his success at the polls. Bauer's problems are two-fold, however. First, assuming he gets by big-name GOP challenger Mike Campbell, he still has to deal with an unusually strong general election opponent in Democrat Robert Barber. Two, the Lieutenant Governor's office affords virtually no opportunity to build a reputation for yourself, unless it's the kind you don't want. So far, Bauer's vehicular antics and shady land deals have been his primary headlines. Still, he has managed to prove his critics wrong in the past, and resiliency in 2006 could pave the way for bigger things in 2010.
4. Jimmy Merrill, Charleston - One of the key players from the growing Lowcountry power base of Charleston, House Majority Leader Jimmy Merrill is the Lowcountry leader with the best shot at the Governor's Mansion. Smooth, attractive and rivaling Democrat James Smith for his proficiency with the press, Merrill is slowly establishing himself as a viable contender for 2010 - which is impressive because he's among the few on this list who aren't actively courting such discussion. A 'shoot first, ask questions later' kind of guy, Merrill can be irascible at times, but has a great self-deprecating wit and is coming around on his fiscal conservative credentials. Look for Merrill to remain a key legislative player through the 2006 cycle, boosting his prospects for 2010.
5. Bobby Harrell, Charleston - The Mayor of Importantville? At No. 5? Surely there must be some mistake. Nope, you're reading right, and here's why - Bobby is likely to pass up the 2010 gubernatorial race because after all, he's probably got more juice sitting where he is in the Speaker's Office. Of course, with the Senate poised to reject his signature property tax-sales tax shift, Harrell's political currency faces the potential for devaluation. Plus, there's the upcoming battle with Gov. Mark Sanford over the state budget, which anybody who attended the recent closed door House Caucus meeting can tell you is still Harrell's exclusive property. Harrell will likely win the fight, but taking ownership of a budget that grows government by 12-16% and gives nothing back to the taxpayers may cost you more than it gets you with the voters.
6. Karen Floyd, Spartanburg - Here's a news flash for you: Karen Floyd is going to be the next Superintendent of Education in South Carolina. Why? She's scary smart, riveting on the stump, stunningly attractive and has the added benefit of running against an old-money, status quo Democrat posing as a Republican. Plus, the race is going to be a referendum on school choice, an issue where the polls keep looking better every day for choice supporter Floyd. Endorsed by everybody who's anybody in the state GOP, Floyd brings all sorts of goodies to the table. She's a business owner, she's from the Upstate, she's a social moderate and she's about to take back an office the Dems have held for eight long years. Throw in a presumed about-face over at the Department of Education during her first term and you've got the makings of a political juggernaut.
7. Tom Davis, Beaufort - No doubt a dark horse on our list, Davis has never held public office and has shown no desire whatsoever to do so, but that doesn't mean his possibilities aren't worth considering. A key player in Sanford's 2002 victory, Davis has been summoned not once but twice to the governor's side in Columbia, a position where he holds enormous sway both in the executive and legislative branches of government. A productive second-term for Sanford with Davis calling the shots puts him in a unique spot, an heir apparent role that if Davis chooses to engage, could spell trouble for other candidates courting the Sanford endorsement and subsequent money train. Davis has yet to show ambition for any office - let alone governor - but his intelligence, abilities and proximity to a possible "King-Maker" should not be ignored if such ambitions begin to emerge.
8. Nikki Haley, Lexington - While her GOP sister Karen Floyd is getting most of the ink, Nikki Haley is quietly becoming perhaps the most respected, influential female member of the General Assembly. The unquestioned ruler of the class of 2005, Haley is already working her way up the House Leadership ladder, impressive considering she's one of the few Legislators to have consistently found favor with the Governor's Office. Her couragous stand opposing the primary seat belt bill last year shows she isn't afraid to take unpopular positions, and her fiscal conservatism is beyond reproach. What Haley needs now is a hook that will take her to the next level, a bold proposal of Quinn-Sheheen proportions that will give her a seat at the table during this election cycle and a basis for running in 2010. If she gets it, watch out.
9. Rick Quinn, Columbia - Speaking of Quinn-Sheheen, its primary author is running in a hotly-contested GOP race for State Treasurer with State Sen. Greg Ryberg, a brusque Northerner who claims he'll put a million dollars of his own money in the race if he has to. But Quinn, the former House Majority Leader, seems to have found himself since losing his House seat in 2004, building an impressive grassroots network that has re-connected him with the voters all over the state. Quinn's strengths are his experience, his ability to grasp and articulate the "big idea," an army of supportive legislators and his revered father's political counsel. A win in the Treasurer's race would help him, but Quinn - who at 40 already has over a decade of legislative experience under his belt - will be a force in South Carolina politics for years to come regardless.
10. Thomas Ravenel, Charleston - If Rod Shealy doesn't forget to buy sufficient ad time in some critical markets toward the end of the 2004 GOP Senate Primary, this guy is your United States Senator right now, not Jim DeMint. Ravenel, a quirky, eccentric Charlestonian with a reputation for dropping millions of his own dollars into contested races, would be much higher on our list had he ever shown an interest in state-level politics. Thusfar, his focus seems to be exclusively on the national stage, but things could change, and if so Ravenel would be an interesting candidate in 2010. He's attractive, well-funded, has the right name and would enjoy all the geographic advantages that helped propel Sanford to victory in 2002. The question is, can he wait that long? Many feel Ravenel may challenge U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in a 2008 GOP primary but if he doesn't, look for him in 2010.
AND FINALLY ... KUDOS TO YOU, ROSS SHEALY!
FITS would like to close this Echo Chamber installment by sending out our heartiest congratulations to Ross Shealy (a.k.a. Gervais S. Bridges).
As it turns out, Shealy's "Barbecue and Politics" website has become the near-exclusive South Carolina news source for "LeftyBlogs.com," a collection of liberal blogsites from all fifty states. Check it out at:
Shealy's new blog buddies include websites devoted to ridding Ole Miss of its "Col. Reb" mascot, extolling the virtues of Mormon martial arts, and teaching you everything you ever wanted to know about salvage logging.
Until next week ... be heard.